an editorial by Gene Turnbow
SAN FRANCISCO – On September 19, Linden Lab announced their new game for the XBox 360 called “Patterns”. From the announcement video, it looks like a cross between the wildly popular Minecraft and a few carefully selected elements from their previous big success story, Second Life. In it, players create objects and environments by sticking together not blocks, as in Minecraft, but triangles.
The addition of physics and the concept of keying the behavior of the user-created world to the patterns of triangles the user creates makes it distinctive – but not exactly unique. Minecraft has the same concept of creating new objects and devices by aligning user-placed primitives made from certain materials into certain configurations. One creates a portal to the Minecraft netherworld (the “Nether”) using blocks of onyx, for example. Patterns adds physics, and the elements are more abstract – and by default, as in Second Life, you see yourself as an avatar that moves around in the triangle world building or destroying, operating and using what you make.
Unfortunately, except for it being in triangles, Mojang has a huge head start on Linden Lab. Mods for Minecraft have had years to become rich and varied, to the point where you can build complex virtual technology from raw materials in-game, and since it’s got an extensive API you can make it do nearly anything you can imagine. Linden Lab is not creating something new an innovative; quite the contrary. They’re chasing the ideas Minecraft left in the distance years ago. Even the idea of porting it to handheld devices like phones and tablets isn’t new. Mojang was there first, releasing versions for iOS and Android in November of 2011.
Obviously Linden Lab is beginning to move on from Second Life. They’re hoping their new game Patterns will be the Next Big Thing. They’re certainly entitled to spin off their success with Second Life, and borrowing core concepts from Minecraft to do it is certainly allowable. Though the new game looks like it might be fun, and their new iOS-only offering, Creatorverse has a certain appeal as well, there’s something critical that Linden Lab has overlooked.
Its own customers.
In recent weeks, third party observers have noted that Second Life, after peaking in 2010, has been slowly losing its edge. Users of the popular open-ended shared-experience 3D social and creative environment have lamented what seemed like bizarre customer service decisions, including:
- Abusive pricing for virtual real estate, and a dizzying bait-and-switch 66% increase on Homestead sim pricing
- Dramatic drop-off in in-game platform administrator activity and accessibility
- Dramatic drop-off in response to abuse reports filed by citizens
- Failure to maintain their previously aggressive zero-tolerance stance on griefing and the presence of cybergangs in-world
- Discontinuance of the discount offered to educational institutions
- A recent decision to remove the ability of the official Second Life client to connect to other grids, such as OSGrid, InWorldz, Avination or SpotOn3d
- Arbitrary changes to the third party viewer policy that make it extremely difficult to create and maintain interoperable viewers
The most recent decision has many users perplexed – the JIRA system, used to report technical issues with the Second Life platform, has now been effectively closed to the public. Users can still file bug reports, but the reports can be seen only by the person who filed them. This move effectively destroys creative communication with the more technical of the Second Life user base, who frequently collaborated with the Second Life developers in finding solutions or suggesting new features for the MMO. Apparently Linden Lab no longer cares about this. They did, however, issue the following statement about the decision to remove the JIRA from the public eye:
User-submitted bug reports help improve the Second Life experience for all Residents, so we greatly appreciate all of you who take the time to provide this invaluable information to us.
Because we want to make it even easier to report bugs, today we are making some changes that will streamline the bug reporting process, allowing us to more quickly collect information and respond to issues.
Following is a summary of the JIRA changes:
- All bugs should now be filed in the new BUG project, using the more streamlined submission form.
- Second Life users will only see their own reported issues. When a Bug reaches the “Been Triaged” status, they will no longer be able to add comments to their issue.
- Once a Bug reaches the “Accepted” or “Closed” status, it will not be updated. You can watch the Release Notes to see when and if a fix has been released for your issue.
- Existing JIRAs will remain publicly visible. We will continue to review and work through these.
To those of you who have taken the time to alert us to bugs and provided the information we need to fix them — thank you! We hope that you will continue to help us improve Second Life, and this new process should make it easier for all of us. Ideas about how we can continue to improve the bug reporting process can be shared here.
We don’t see how this will improve much – there is no way to check for duplicate bug reports, there’s no way to collaborate with the user base on finding solutions, and it effectively slams the door in the face of the third party developers who create tools that interoperate with Second Life.
Perhaps Linden Lab thinks that with visibility of the process completely removed, nobody will be able to keep track of how responsive they’ve been. Given that the Second Life platform has lost over a thousand sims in the past eleven weeks alone, and this JIRA announcement was made during this period, it’s entirely possible that Linden Lab has simply stopped caring about Second Life. They appear to have been expending their resources elsewhere, and for practical purposes Linden Lab is now merely overseeing the winding down of the Second Life economy and an entire virtual civilization – the first of its kind in the world.
All things end, good and bad – but the Second Life community is slowly getting the hint and is creating their own grids and the virtual civilization is moving outward from Second Life in a great diaspora. Once considered a shaky experimental curiosity, OpenGrid now boasts more than 11,000 region simulators – about a third of the number of regions in Second Life. Taken all together, though, the top 40 non-Linden grids contain about 80% the number of regions Second Life does – if the current rate of Second Life decline and the current rate of OpenSim expansion hold, OpenSim regions will outnumber Second Life regions by Christmas.
Linden Lab has chosen its new course. It’s sad that this doesn’t seem to include the customers upon whom its success was built.
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We had received information that SpotOn3D was going out of business, and referred to that fact in the above article. This, however, turned out not to be the case, so we retract that statement.